The Conversation Blows Up

"The Conversation Blows Up" by Mary Fogarty and Helen Simard

The opening of the epic film, The Conversation (Copolla, 1974), begins with a shot of a park, where a mime follows people around, imitating their bodily comportment, as a surveillance expert and his team work to record the conversation of a couple they've been hired to spy on. 

What does it mean that we paid homage to this movie's iconic opening in the intervention? As Paula Guerra and Tânia Moreira write, in "Underground Music Scenes and DIY Culture": "What is the influence of retro/nostalgia approaches in contemporary artistic production?"

Here we are intervening with a retro-representation of a film about a male protagonist: we've multiplied - two rather than one mime, and switched gender - female rather than male. We are not overhearing conversations so much as overlooking bodily comportment, like the mime whose gestures craft the opening visuals to the surveillance soundscape of The Conversation, trying to access people's awareness of their bodies and gestures through movement. 

As Tami Gadir describes it:

The shocking experience of individual conference delegates having their postures and movements mirrored by Fogarty and Simard – whose faces were frighteningly obscured by semi-opaque nylon stockings – drew attention to the limitations of our current (bodily) ways-of-knowing, while also gesturing toward the possibilities that such forms of immediacy and presence might afford…

This is both dancing as an "externalisation of listening", as recently suggested by Simon Frith, but also as feeling from the inside, as understood by dance education scholar Susan Stinson (1999) who writes: "dance is not what we do, but how we do it. It is a state of consciousness involving full engagement and awareness, attending to the inside" (158)

Stinson, whose work gets at the somatic and phenomenological understanding of body knowledge in education systems, is the proponent of a radical, empirical pedagogy. At a conference that hopes to make us aware of our habits of sitting in rooms for days listening to each other speak by adding performance interventions that make us want to move, we saw this performance as an opportunity to invite others to become aware of their kinesthetic sense. But we did it in a punk way...

As Tom Artiss, a conference attendee described it: 

"A punk moment that (not so politely) encouraged a self-importance check among attenders was the dance intervention piece ‘The Conversation Blows Up’ by Mary Fogarty and Helen Simard. A looped mash-up by Roger White of hip-hop, classical, and pop served as the soundtrack for a guerilla-style B-Girl performance in the hallway outside the talks, which put the panel chair of an ongoing session nearby in the unenviable position of having to ask that the music be turned down at a punk conference.  Any minor irritation this may have caused didn’t appear to linger.  Moments like these were, for me, what made the conference stand out. Punk should make us uncomfortable. But we can, if we choose, be comfortable with that."
The idea of imitating bodily comportment became the foundation for this performance, alongside moments of emotional interaction between the performers as they locked each other into a range of surveillance procedures mixed with full-out breaking sequences. Javier "Jas Processor" Pérez Pinheiro said about the performance, "...[it] was amazing and very interesting performance. You showed all of us how lyircal and intense the breakdance could be."  The piece was set to a musical soundscape by Canadian musician Roger White that looped allowing audiences to come and go and including audio fragments from The Conversation and Run the Jewels that left the performers on the floor in a pile of their own sweat after forty-five minutes of straight dancing.